By US Racing Team
Mage finally gets a measure of well-earned respect as the 8-5 favorite in the $1.65 million Preakness (G1) on Saturday at Pimlico.
Eighteen horses saddled up for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and only Mage, the winner, returns two weeks later for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
Mage is deservedly front and center as the wagering choice for the first time in his five-race career. He was an easy debut winner at Gulfstream Park in late January in an 11-1 upset.
The next stop was an ambitious step up into the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), producing a trouble-filled fourth place finish at 5-1.
He had the lead in the deep stretch of the Florida Derby (G1) at 9-2, only to be overhauled by Forte in a solid runner-up finish.
Even with the scratch of Forte on the morning of the Derby, Mage remained cloaked in the shadows until he found daylight to uncork his now-patented closing kick to pull the 15-1 upset at Churchill Downs.
There’s no hiding now. Mage, welcome to the spotlight!
“It’s the greatest feeling just bringing the Derby winner,” said assistant trainer Gustavo Delgado, Jr. on behalf of his father. “We’re just going day by day, race by race but it does give you confidence. He’s competitive — 8-5 — not 50-1, 25-1”
Fair enough. The biggest question centers on whether Mage will continue his progression only two weeks after producing the race of his young career? Or will he fall victim to the dreaded “bounce,” a regression after a peak performance?
There are seven new shooters, horses that bypassed the Derby waiting to pounce in the event of a Mage bounce.
First Mission, the 5-2 second choice, is even less experienced than Mage with only three career starts. He carries a two-race winning streak into the Preakness following a win in the Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland.
The one to fear is National Treasure, sitting on the rail as the 4-1 third choice for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Baffert is back and looking for a record-setting eighth Preakness victory. The silver-haired conditioner has been barred from the Derby for the last two years following the Medina Spirit medication disqualification in 2021.
Baffert returns to the Triple Crown with a live runner who was third last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). With Baffert barred from Churchill Downs, National Treasure was “loaned” to trainer Tim Yakteen for the Santa Anita Derby (G1). He ran fourth that afternoon, ending the Kentucky Derby dream. He transferred back to Baffert after the race.
National Treasure has had plenty of time to regroup. Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez retains the mount and Baffert will equip the colt with blinkers to sharpen his focus.
It all points to another Baffert win in the land of the crabcake.
The Professor: 1 National Treasure; 2 Mage; 3 Blazing Sevens
Picks from our other US Racing Staff handicappers:
Mr. WPS: 1 First Mission; 2 National Treasure; 3 Mage
Louslip Lenny: 1 Perform; 2 Mage; 3 First Mission
Harriet ‘Capper: 1 Mage; 2 National Treasure; 3 Blazing Sevens
Triexfecta: 1 Mage; 2 National Treasure; 3 Red Route One
|1||National Treasure||4-1||John Velazquez||Steven M. Asmussen|
|2||Chase The Chaos||50-1||Sheldon Russell||Ed Moger Jr.|
|3||Mage||8-5||Javier Castellano||Gustavo Delgado|
|4||Coffeewithchris||20-1||Jaime Rodriguez||John E. Salzman Jr.|
|5||Red Route One||10-1||Joel Rosario||Steven M. Asmussen|
|6||Perform||15-1||Feargal Lynch||Claude R. McGaughey III|
|7||Blazing Sevens||6-1||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Chad C. Brown|
|8||First Mission||5-2||Luis Saez||Brad H. Cox|
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.